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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 21 October, 2014

Column: It’s summer sales time – consumers, know your rights

Summer sales season is upon us again and bargains beckon – but consumers should be aware their rights and be careful not to impulse buy, writes Fergal O’Leary of the National Consumer Agency.

Fergal O’Leary

BRIGHT DISCOUNT SIGNS, bulging rails and busy sales assistants can only mean one thing – summer sales season is upon us again. As we are all trying to get by on less these days, the sales season can be a really good time to snap up bargains, particularly on expensive items that you have been saving for.

But sales can lead to an increase in impulse spending too, when consumers stumble upon that “must have” item with 70 per cent off. As such, it’s really important to be aware of your consumer rights when buying reduced price items, either in person or online, so you can take action if your cheap deal turns out to be a damp squib.

Sales season does not affect your statutory rights

The first point to note is that sales season does not affect your statutory rights. Signs such as “No Refunds” or “No Exchanges” can cause confusion, particularly as some shops display these signs prominently during sales season. However, as per the consumer legislation we have here in Ireland, if an item is faulty, you are entitled to a remedy whether that item is on sale or not.

In all cases, what you buy must be as it is described to you, fit for the intended purpose and be of satisfactory quality. Your rights do not change just because what you bought was on sale. However an important point to note is that if you were told about the defect before you bought the item, you may not have grounds for redress.

If you have a faulty product there are a number of options open to you, depending on the type of fault. These could include a full refund, repair, replacement or reduction in the price. Once you notice a fault with any item you have bought, you should return it as soon as possible to the seller, explain what has happened and show them proof of purchase. Proof of purchase can be your receipt, or a copy of your debit or credit card statement.

Now for the tricky bit…

So what happens if you buy an item, discover a fault and return to the shop only to discover it’s been significantly reduced? Your consumer rights dictate that you are entitled to a refund of the full price or a replacement of the same value or a repair. You do not have to accept a refund of the lower sale price if the goods are faulty.

Now for the tricky bit. If you’ve bought something in a shop, in the sales or otherwise, and you simply change your mind about it, then you do not have any rights under consumer law and the shop does not have to offer you a refund or a replacement. This applies if you’ve bought something and discovered it doesn’t fit, doesn’t match, doesn’t suit you or simply doesn’t “look right”.

But, some shops do accept returns, typically with conditions about packaging and intact labels, and will give you an exchange or refund within a certain amount of time after the purchase. But this depends on shop policy and is a gesture of goodwill on their behalf. Some shops may only offer an exchange or refund on goods that were not on sale.

Again, unless there is something wrong with the goods, this is not breaking consumer law or infringing on your consumer rights. If the shop do agree to refund you, and the item you are returning is now reduced, you probably have to accept the lower price as the shop is allowing you to return the item as a gesture of goodwill.

What are my rights when shopping online?

Finally, more and more people are opting to avoid the crush of the high street and are trawling for bargains online. If you buy something from an EU-based website, you have seven working days, from the date you received your purchase, to cancel the order and return the goods. This applies if the item is at full price, on sale or even if you’ve simply changed your mind. However, if there is nothing wrong with the item, you, the consumer, are obliged to foot the bill to return it.

These rules only apply to EU based websites, so it’s important to remember that you don’t have the same level of protection when buying goods from further afield. As such, when thinking about purchasing from a website outside of the EU, be sure to read up on the returns policy and terms and conditions of the site, so you are fully informed before parting with your hard earned cash.

During summer sales season, and all year round in fact, it’s always best to check a retailer’s returns policy before you make a purchase and, crucially, to keep your receipts as proof of purchase and of the price you paid. Arming yourself with this and information about your consumer rights is the best way to ensure you can make the most of the Summer Sales.

Check out www.nca.ie for more information on your consumer rights.

Quick Reference Guide

Faulty Goods? Change Your Mind?
Return the goods to the retailer you bought them from. Check to see what the retailer’s returns policy is and return the goods if you can.
The sooner you act the better. The sooner you act the better.
You are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund. You are not entitled to refund or exchange. However, some shops may have a refund/exchange policy if you change your mind.
*Need proof of purchase – a receipt or credit card/bank statement. Dependant on shop policy, but best to have a receipt.

* Proof of purchase– if the price of the item has been reduced, having proof of the price paid ensures that you get back the total amount you spent, or a replacement with an item to the value you spent but only if the product is faulty.

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